Saturday, November 7, 2009

Our Final Days at Burning Man

Friday we woke up and it was my 64th birthday. Phil's 64th birthday was on the following Monday, so both of us enjoyed one of the most unique birthday's either one of us had every experienced.

Janet was kind enough to gift airplane rides to myself, Phil, Sara and David, giving us all an opportunity to see Black Rock City from the air. Plus I had the opportunity to photography Janet and a few other guys leaving the airplane for their skydives. The city from the sky was an awesome site, well worth the ride, although Sara was tempted to jump with Janet!

That night, jumps were scheduled and the Rocket Ship art had a big pyro planned. Sara and I were out on the Playa helping with crowd control for the landing area, Phil and Janet were at the airport setting up runway lights and David was out on the Playa. Unfortunately after what seemed liked hours of standing around in near zero visibility the jump was canceled due to high winds and dust storms. (Good thing, we wouldn't have wanted to jump in those conditions!) After helping keep the crowd in the correct place we  were in a perfect position to see the huge Rocket Ship pyro display. Apparently they were not able to do everything they wanted due to the wind, however it was still spectacular.

Saturday was another day of enjoying the sights and sounds of Burning Man. David volunteered to drive the Burning Sky art car which took skydivers and FireFlys (people going for an observer ride in the plane) to the airport. After three hours of hanging with skydivers he came back a changed man. (Ask David for details!) The rest of us ventured out into the dust and walked around the city and playa. Wandering around in dust storms with only 20 feet of visibility was quite a surreal experience. Needless to say we all came back covered in dust!

The big event Saturday night was the burning of the "Man".  On our way out to watch the burn, the dust storms were so severe we actually returned to the camp for a while, sure the burn would not happen. Since we couldn't see anything in the dark and dust we were concerned we would get totally lost wandering around the playa. Fortunately the weather improved and we were able to head back out. (By now you have got the idea, a lot of dust, and walking around!)

On our way out to the Man (for the second time) we stopped to watch and listen to a very unusual musical pyro device. This guy had designed a device that made a most unusual sound, a bit of a cross between an organ and a didgeridoo. The music was made by huge flames that shot out of the top of the pipes. It was very unusual and interesting.

When we got out to the man the entire 45,000 population of Black Rock City was gathered around the Man in a circle, including all the art cars. There was a lot of music, cars with lights, and people of course in crazy costumes. The normal position of the Man with his arms down by his side had changed to a position with his arms up over his head. The burn started with a huge fireworks display, and a lot of large flame explosions. After the display finished portions of the Man, and the structure around him were on fire. Eventually everything was burning, and finally the structure and the Man burned to the ground. The energy and mood of the crowd was very vibrant and electric, a huge party atmosphere.

Sunday was a work day for John, Sara and Janet. Since we were staying at the Burning Sky camp it was appropriate to volunteer for some of the work that has to be done to run a skydiving operation. We had the task of briefing, rigging and loading people into the jump plane. It was good to help out, although five hours of hot dirty work. As it turned out Sunday set a new record for the number of plane loads. By the end of our shift we had a really good system going.

While we were working Phil was also out at the airport taking pictures of the different planes. At one point a very rare plane flew in, and the pilot announced he was giving away free flights over Black Rock City to any naked ladies. Needless to say there were a number of women happy to get naked for a ride in such a rare plane. The plane was a Sikorsky S-38, known as the "Air Yacht". It is the only one in the world still flying. Since Phil was in the right place with the best camera, he got the task of photographing the naked ladies in the airplane. Check out his pictures here Sikorsky Photos.

After we finished with our airport duties we had the task of breaking down all our camp structures and packing everything in the RV ready for our 4am departure the next morning. Note for next time, if you leave shoes outside they fill up with dust!

That evening (Sunday) the weather finally cleared for the night jumps. These were definitely the coolest night jumps we have ever seen. We could see each jumper in freefall since they wore jumpsuits covered in lights. Each jumper also had some sort of pyro device they ignited and hung below them after the canopies opened. This created a huge bright sparkling trail behind them. There was a bit of tense moment when Phil radioed us to see if we could see the plane, he and Janet were waiting at the airport again setting up runway lights. After about 10 minutes of wondering where the plane was we found out George had decided to return to Reno, instead of trying to land in a pitch black desert! Can't say we blame him at all, it was very dark, and the runway was hard to find even on the ground.

The entire Temple burned down much faster than the Man. The mood was entirely different. There was a sense of reverence, and you could hear a pin drop. The Temple burning concluded our Burning Man experience. We did manage to get up at 4am the next day and leave without any problems. We will spare you the details of the two day drive back in the RV, the day and half of unloading and cleanup, and the several weeks of dealing with the aftermath at home!

Check out the photos from the last few days. Click the image below to view the photos in full size.

Final Thoughts
Are we glad we went to Burning Man? Absolutely! Would we go again? Absolutely!

It was without question one of the most unusual unique events we have ever experienced. Is it for everyone? Of course not. It would definitely take a lot of people out of their comfort zone. However we will always look back on our Burning Man experiences with great fondness and many indelible memories.

For now we are left with a strange sense of peace and calmness. Sara says she feels unusually calm, and serene. Was it the dust, the sleep deprivation, or the overall visual impact of the event? Who knows, you will have to go and decide for yourself.....

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day Two - Night Art and Camp Life Photos

As promised here are the next set of photos. To see them in full size just click on the photo below.

Unforgettable moment from the night on the Playa: Around 1am after cycling around for hours we were a long way out by the temple, and starting to get hungry. The next thing we know, a large art car stops, and someone yells 'Free quesadillas anyone?" A whole group of people in a brightly lit mutant vehicle were cooking food in the middle of the desert. I have to say those were the best hot quesadillas we have ever eaten!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Day Two - Introduction to Dust Storms and Night Life

The second day started with a discovery that the RV batteries have died.  Phil and I being over prepared both had volt/ohm meters, which we used to inspect and test the batteries.  We find one of the three deep cell batteries did not have enough water in the cells.  (Note to self, add this to the pre check list.)  Since all the batteries are wired together, if you have one bad battery it can drain all the others.  We disconnected the battery, and managed to start the generator to charge the remaining batteries, problem solved.

After the RV maintenance we were all able to have a leisurely morning, finish breakfast, and use the delightful outside shower.  The we launched out for more photos.  That afternoon I was in the RV and heard a loud yell from outside ' Dust Storm....'.  I got up and looked out of the RV door and within seconds the dust was so think I could only see about 10 or 15 feet.  From that point on we experienced the infamous Burning Man dust storms on a daily basis. 

From that first dust storm we quick learned you never go anywhere without a dust mask and goggles.  The dust at Burning Man is more like talcum powder than sand, and it quickly covers everything, including your body, face and clothes.  At first you try to avoid the dust, but you quickly realise that is impossible.  The storms come and go every day, and you are simply in it.  You cannot hide in the RV because it is too hot, so the drill is every night when you get ready to sleep you get out the large packs of baby wipes thoughtfully pre purchased and wipe all the dust from your exposed body parts.  (Must be more time consuming for the naked people!)

That evening we launched out to see the night time activities and art.  Phil was absolutely right, the playa really comes alive at night and is absolutely amazing.  All the art structures are lit up.  There are hundreds of mutant vehicles moving around, lit with multiple lights and neon signs.  The vehicles, depending on their size are full of people, and typically have loud music playing.  Since all the streets are dark all the bikes have to be lit to prevent people running into each other.  Most people walking around also have some of light on themselves.  It would be unfortunate to say you were run over by a mutant vehicle disguised as a rubber duck, or a pirate ship, or any of the amazing creations.

Pyrotechnics are also a huge part of Burning Man.  A lot of the art structures and art cares have pyrotechnic features.  We saw numerous arts cars moving across the plays with flames shooting out of parts of them.  We spent hours cycling around watching everything.  There was a beautiful full moon which really helped prevent any nasty bike falls caused by cycling too fast into the many areas of soft sand.  Considering how easy it is to get distracted by some flashing, flame throwing structure or car, it was a surprise we all managed to arrive back at the RV safely.  However around 2 or 3am we decided it was time to get some rest, we still had several days ahead of us.

To be continued....
(Not sure what happened, this posted on its own.  We have more photos comming!)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fear and Loathing in the Black Rock Desert

WARNING WARNING the images and written content of this blog may be offensive. There is profanity and nudity displayed. Do not let your children see this blog. It could cause emotional scaring and confusion which we can not be responsible for.

Impressions from Burning Man 2009

Wow, where can I start. Of course there was a huge build up of preparation and anticipation. It takes months of planning and provisioning. You must bring all your own shelter, food , and water. The only thing you can buy at BM is ice and coffee. It is a total gifting community. There are camps that give away food and drinks but you certainly can't count on that for your basic needs. The playa, which is the actual desert surface that you live on is such an alkaline dusty environment that you can't use an RV shower. The dust from your body gets in the RV plumbing system and gums it up and ruins it. So we had to build an outside shower with an evaporation pond. BM has a "leave no trace" policy so you are not allowed to dump anything on the playa. Due to the extreme heat during the day, a good shade structure is absolutely necessary. Forget about running the AC in an RV during the day. Your neighbors will hate you if you run the generator all day. So back in Dallas and Dillon, CO we built structures and purchased everything we needed. Since we had never been to BM we wanted to be over prepared rather than under prepared; hence, we had a ton of stuff!!! Of course anybody in their right mind will have read the BM Survival Guide and all the preparation documents. You will have also looked at a ton of pictures on the Internet to get a feel for what to expect but I do have to say - BM is a lot like certain things in life- you can't even start to understand what BM is until you have actually experienced it.

So we all showed up with mixed feelings. A mix of great anticipation and excitement and also some fear and concerns. Technically, BM is a safe place in that they have their own police, medical and fire departments just like any other city but nevertheless one of the main components of BM is "radical self reliance". Part of BM is to see if you can go to a harsh desert environment and survive on your own but in a large community of like minded people.

So we drive the RV from Colorado to Nevada and arrive at the playa at midnight Wednesday Sept.2nd. When you drive out on the playa you have to stop at a greeting station where you show your admission tickets and submit to a vehicle inspection. They check to make sure you are not sneaking people in or have illegal things like guns. BM is obviously a very liberal event but there are a ton of rules. Given 40,000 to 50,000 people attend this event, you certainly would need rules and people to care them out. So we pull up in the dark and they have a lighted greeting area with people dressed like nothing I had ever seen before! I'm looking out of the window and I see a person dressed in a skirt and then I realize that person is a man. The clue was his beard and long dreadlocks. The girls were dressed in kind of a weird sexy lingerie desert motif with dust masks and goggles. It was totally surreal! It was like leaving a normal real world and stepping into some sort of exotic science fictiony movie.

One of the greeters sticks his head in the RV window and says "are there any virgins in here" and at first I thought you have to be kidding- look at us, we are all old but of course he was referring to first time Burners. So when he discovers the entire RV is full of virgins there was great excitement among the greeters. Then we were instructed to get out of the RV and participate in a welcome ceremony which started with hugs from the men in skirts and the women in the sexy lingerie deserty outfits. Then the head greeter gave us a little briefing which started out by saying" you are at Burning Man- you will never be the same". So far, I am a believer. Then we took a large pipe and banged on a big metal cylinder and chanted " we love the playa". The first night we just parked on the playa instead of trying to find the Burning Sky camp in the dark.

The next morning we moved to the Burning Sky camp area and found a nice spot for he RV. Burning Sky is the camp where all the skydivers stay. Then we erected our shade structure which was made from two 12X16 foot tarps and PVC poles. We had plenty of tables and chairs. We laid out out a large rubber mat which was good until about the third day when it was completely covered in dust. Next we set up our 8 X 8 foot evaporation pond and outdoor shower. Fortunately, everything we constructed in Dallas worked like a champ. Next we set up all our solar charging. We set up numerous spot lights that illuminated the camp at night. Then we set up my new roll up solar panel that I used to recharge the batteries on my electric scooter. Fortunately, all the solar stuff worked very well.

After lunch we launched out to see and photograph some of the sights and sounds of BM. The first day of BM is a day of transition. The normal sights and sounds of everyday life just don't exist at BM. Clothing is optional at BM so immediately you see people walking around completely or partially naked. At first, the girls try not to be too obvious that they are looking at a man's genitalia and the guys try not to be too obvious that they are checking out a girl's breasts. That first day we saw some guy walking around completely nude with a toy chipmunk on his penis. He seemed to be very popular! By the end of BM you have finally made the transition to acceptance of nudity. It is strange how the "not normal" becomes "normal". That is all part of one of the other major components of BM which is "radical self expression". Most of the people you see at BM are dressed in some form of alternative attire. The serious Burners come with a variety of "costumes"- some for day time and some for night time. As a matter of fact, you do feel a little out of place if you are in normal street clothes.

BM this year had 44,000 people which may not include all the people that come early and set up Black Rock City. BM is laid out in a huge semi-circle with streets running from 2 o'clock to 10 o'clock with 12 intersecting streets. In the center is all the main infrastructure buildings such as medical, Department of Public Works, Post office, Media Mecca, DMV ( Dept. of Mutant Vehicles ) etc. etc. The Black Rock Rangers are the voluntary police force who do a great job of controlling that many people who are in party mode 24/7. Black Rock City is subject to all the Nevada state laws as well as federal laws. We saw the county sheriff and the DEA was there also. Some of the camps that were serving alcohol got fined for not asking for age credentials. There is a big misconception that BM is some sort of big drug and sex fest. We never saw people walking around doing drugs or having sex. Were sex and drugs there? Just like any city in America I am sure they were.

There are only three forms of transportation at BM. Walking and cycling are the two main modes of getting around. The third form is by "mutant vehicle" which are also called "art cars". They can be small or large. Some are big enough to carry 50-100 people. They may have some animal theme or art theme- practically anything but definitely nothing like you have ever seen before. They are definitely not street legal. Anyone who wants to bring an art car has to submit plans to the DMV and pass an inspection for approval. So you wander around Black Rock City and you are seeing people and vehicles like you have never seen before.

Of course art is a huge part of BM. So as you move around the city and out on the playa you are surrounded with a multitude of artistic expressions. On the outskirts of the city is a huge area where numerous artists have built art structures, some of which are just for viewing and some are artistic structures designed for participants to interact with. Many of the art structures are strongly constructed which allow Burners to climb on and enjoy. Every year there are two structures that are built by the BM organization. One is referred to as the "Man". This a huge wooden structure with the trademark Burning Man logo look. The other structure is the "Temple". It is also a huge wooden structure. People go to both of these structures and listen to music or just hang out spending time around them. Many people write on the wood with messages to lost family members and express their feelings about a variety of things.

So Sara and I spent the afternoon getting my cameras tagged, picking up media credentials and photographing some of the art and people. We returned to the RV and had an evening meal. Myself,Sara,David, and Janet decided not to venture out the first evening for the night time activities because we were pretty well whipped. Phil on the other hand, decided try some of the new extra strength 5 hour energy drink that we recently picked up at a truck stop- a small bottle with lots of power. He then launched out on his bike in the dark and did not return until 2 or 3 AM.

To view pictures from Burning Man click on the photo below. You can see individual pictures or click on the slide show to automatically view all the pictures.  

Travelling with the Stanfords

That was our start of Burning Man. Stay tuned for more to come

Monday, September 7, 2009

Heading Back to Colorado

We are off the Playa, and out of Black Rock City.  Exodus as it is called went well, due to the 4am start.  We avoided the fate of a five hour traffic line and running out of gas as some people did.  Today is Phil's birthday, so we have stopped at an RV center in the center of Nevada for a well deserved shower. 
When we first got to the event the greeter at the gate said 'You are at Burning Man now, you will never be the same', he was right!  What an amazing extraordinary experince, including the many challenges we all faced. 

We will follow up with a complete write update and images of our Burning Man experience soon.  For now we need to head on back to Colorado.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The experience is almost over! Yesterday was a day of dust storms, almost zero visibility. We walked around in it all afternoon, very surreal. We took a ride in the jump plan, great aerial views. The day ended with the burning of the man. 44,000 people gathered around the man to witness amazing pyro technics and as the burned to the ground the energy was very high. We head out tonight or tomorrow morning.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Update from Burning Man. We are alive, we've leaned this is an event of submission. Everything is different from the real world, and the dust is unavoidable. We've had some unforgettable experiences, tonight should be the ultimate when the man burns. Onward through the dust....

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A surge of energy

Energy and excitment is increasing. We are fully fueled, topped up on
water and made multiple last minute trip to the truck stop. Burning
Man here we come!!!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Exhaustion sets in

This may be the last post until we get back from the Playa. We are in
Reno, need to do a quick shop for last minute items, then only 100
miles to the gate. Should be there by midnight. We are looking
forward to five days of staying in one place, let the crazyness
continue, fear and loathing in the black rock desert!

Entering Nevada

We just entered Nevada, about 500 miles to go.  We slept in a rest
area with the truckers last night, after driving until 1am.  John got
the worst driving slot, 2 lanes in the dark up soldier pass, with
construction, very scary!  The bad news is Jim's foot isn't any
better, he can barely walk, even with plenty od painkillers, so sadly
we are dropping him of in Reno. :(
 We just passed Boneville salt flats where they are racing bikes
today, tempting to stop, but Buring Man is waiting - the man buns in 4
days and 11 hours.....

This post didn't go out when it should have. Since I wrote we have
blown a tire, and taken a detour to Battle Mountain Tire factory.
Back on the road now heading to Reno to drop off Jim and pick up Janet
and David. Onward with the adventure!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Leaving Dillon - At Last

After a day and a half of preparation we have finally departed! We
have 1000 miles before we arrive at Burning Man. Everyone has their
tickets, a good thing at 300 dollars a person. We have more than
enough food to feed a small army, 40 gallons o drinking water and
another 40 as backup. We do need to stop for beer and tequila though.
Fabulous views as we drive past Vail.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Burning Man 2009

This years adventure is a trip to an event in the Nevada deseart called Burning Man. It's a bit difficult to explain what Burning Man is, and even after all the research and discussions we have done, we are not really sure what to expect. First, about 30 - 40,000 people get together on an area in the Black Rock desert also called the Playa.

For a week everyone lives in a community which is based on radical self reliance, radical self expression and temporary community. You have to take everything needed to survive for a week, there is no electricity, food, water, or the ability to purchase anything. (Although it is possible to buy ice and coffee!) Thousands of people create amazing art structures in the desert, and theme camps for things like solar power, recycling, and all sorts of different artistic expression.

For more information here is the main Web site: ,  it really explains everything well. For such a radical event, there sure are a lot of rules!

We have planning this trip for over two years, and as the months have gone by preparation has got more and more hectic. We have a group of close friends joining us for this adventure, Phil from Colorado, Jim and Janet our skydiving friends, and David from Dallas. We've all gathered our costumes, (apparently very important), built a camp shower with evaporation pond, and the critical shade structure.

After a 14 hour drive from Dallas, with a fully loaded van, we find ourselves in Colorado at Phil's house. We spent all day unloading the van and preparing the rv, checking our bikes etc. The RV is full of food, clothing, camping equipment, clothing to deal with temperature ranges of 40F to 100F, everything we need to be self reliant! Jim is here from Dallas, and tomorrow we start the 1000 mile drive to Black Rock City, the temporary city created for Burning Man.

We are looking forward to some great experiences, seeing some amazing art and generally having a fantastic time.  We are staying with the Burning Sky camp, which is for skydivers. A plane is being brought in, and Janet plans on making some jumps.

We will try to send updates when we can, we probably won't have any Internet access on the Playa, but plan to write everyday and just update when we get back out. We'll be at Burning Man probably from Wed 2nd until Monday 7th.

This may be an epic adventure for all of us, stay tuned.